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Peru's indigenous language revival

  • 24 January 2017


One indigenous language vanishes every two weeks, and Quechua, once the tongue of Peru's mighty Inca Empire, was one of those heading to extinction. In Peru, however, something unique has happened.

Quechua — a language that according to influential Peruvian commentator, Richard Webb, was on the road to annihilation — has been thrown a lifeline. Last 16 December at 5:30am the first ever Quechua language television news service — Ñuqanchik ('All of us' in Quechua) — went to air on the platforms of TV Peru and National Radio, the public broadcaster.

It was a historical moment. Hugo Coya, the executive president of the Peru's National Institute of Radio and Television and the architect of the Quechua television news service, described the project as a small step in recognising that Peru is a 'multilingual and multicultural country. The national broadcaster,' he said, 'belongs to all Peruvians not only to those who speak Spanish.'

Quechua, after Spanish, is the second largest language in Peru and one of the 47 natives languages used by Peru's 55 indigenous nations. It is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Latin America. It is the mother tongue of indigenous communities in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

In 1975 Quechua joined Spanish and Aymara — the other major indigenous language in Peru — as an official language of this Andean country. In Peru, Quechua is spoken by 4 million — a figure that in the context of the country's 30 million inhabitants clearly reflects the gloomy prognosis that the language was destined to vanish.

Until the mid-20th century two thirds of Peruvians spoke Quechua. But in the 1950s the mass migration of impoverished indigenous and rural communities to the cities brought about a catastrophic event; indigenous people were forced to speak Spanish.

Roger Gonzalo Segura, Professor of Quechua at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, said he was concerned very few children now speak indigenous languages. He cautiously praised the Quechua news broadcast. 'This is a time when all efforts and policies can help to preserve the language,' he told me.

Peru's national broadcaster, which reaches 90 per cent of the country, has among its staff 14 reporters who are fluent Quechua speakers. They have total editorial independence. This is hugely important in terms of creating a news service that is not a simple translation of Spanish news. Ñuqanchik provides to the Quechua community news framed around their unique indigenous cosmology.


"Just a decade